GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Americans are being battered by a variety of recent crises and concerns such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. relations with North Korea and turmoil in the Middle East.
Add to that the continuing threat of terrorism, an increased unemployment rate, a rising trade deficit and a floundering economy, and it’s no wonder many Americans are concerned about the future.
A recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group reported that 65 percent of Americans are concerned about the future, with roughly 74 percent of those citing moral decay in America and in the world as their primary concern.
Economically, with the U.S. economy teetering between recession and slowdown, the financial well-being of a third of Americans is hanging in the balance. People are worried about not having enough money to pay normal monthly bills.
Needless to say, they are living so close to the edge financially that a prolonged economic downturn could put them in a serious financial squeeze. Yet, even though this has the potential of easily igniting a collapse in consumer spending and consumer confidence, it has not.
According to the same Barna poll, although consumers are very concerned, consumer spending has not dropped in proportion. In fact, there has been very little change in the percentage of their income that Americans spend. However, there has been a shift in how the funds are spent.
Less money is being saved or contributed to churches and charitable organizations, and more is being spent on credit card interest, recreation, alcohol, gambling (primarily through state lotteries) and pets.
This shift in spending focus has become especially noticeable in the wake of America’s economic slowdown. However it’s not a new trend, because there has been a steady and constant shift in spending habits for the past two decades.
God’s Word says, “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
How can we know if we’re being “faithful”? Just as the buyer of a complex piece of machinery studies the manufacturer’s manual to learn how to operate the equipment, we need to examine the “Creator’s handbook,” the Bible, to find out how He wants us to handle His possessions.
Many Christian leaders feel that this shift is directly related to and can be traced back to the decline of America’s and the world’s moral standards. In fact, many feel that morality has such a direct relationship to economic stability that when moral character collapses the economic ramifications on a nation can be devastating.
A collapse in morals also creates a financial collapse. A generation ago, marriage was the bedrock of family security. Today, 50-plus percent of all marriages end in divorce, and most failed marriages are the result of financial problems or unfaithfulness.
There are more than 11 million single-parent families in America with average annual incomes of less than $20,000 — below the government’s established poverty level.
Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalizes abortion on demand, there has been an average of 1 million surgical abortions and another 9 to 12 million mechanical and chemically controlled abortions annually.
This has caused a loss of more than 45 million consumers and taxpayers in America since 1973, with an estimated loss of over $430 billion in revenues, salaries and consumer sales, not including the $80 billion spent on medical costs for performing the abortions.
Since the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic — a disease transmitted by infected intravenous paraphernalia or through sexual contact — the virus has infected more than 50 million people in the world in the past 20 years. With more than 30 million deaths, HIV/AIDS is the fourth leading cause of mortality.
At the present spread rate of the disease, AIDS patients could occupy 70 percent of the available hospital bed space in America by the year 2010, leaving only 30 percent of the available space for the treatment of all other diseases, afflictions and accidents.
Despite what we know about the health effects of tobacco, Americans are still spending an average of $31 billion annually on tobacco products. In addition, $58 billion is spent on alcohol consumption and $586.5 billion on gambling. Then, on top of that, $250 billion is spent annually on the medical treatment of tobacco- and alcohol-related diseases.
This steady shift of the spending patterns of Americans has been very obvious in contributions to churches and charitable organizations.
The Barna Research Group reports that since 2000, 78 percent of American adults have contributed to a church, charitable organization or nonprofit organization at least one time. That is down from 90 percent between the years 1990 and 1999.
Sixty-one percent of those giving gave to a church — also down from 77 percent 10 years ago. However, only 6 percent of adults gave 10 percent (a tithe) to the church, and less than 2 percent gave more than a tithe to such things as offerings, special projects and missions.
Total global church income in 2000 was $12.3 trillion. Of that amount, $213 billion was given to causes such as radio, TV, book publication, counseling and so on. Of the $11.4 billion given to missions, only 5.4 percent went to foreign missions. And 87 percent of that amount was for work among people who were already Christians. That left only 13 percent of foreign missions contributions to evangelize the entire non-Christian world.
Even though money to fund church operations and the Great Commission has declined steadily over the past decade, Americans have annually increased their spending on leisure, hobbies, entertainment, gambling and recreation.
Americans spent $21.3 billion in 2002 on pets — almost twice the amount given to missions worldwide. Then $224 billion was spent to eat out, $67 billion for frozen dinners, $15 billion on junk food snacks, $25 billion on gardening, $22.1 billion on hunting and $191 billion on personal water craft.
This decline in moral standards and values not only has affected our spiritual and emotional welfare but also directly has influenced our value system, priorities, consumer spending and charitable contributions. Personal and national debt, government entitlement programs and how they are funded, insurance and healthcare, our overall economic well-being and the inability to recover from economic downturns can be traced to the moral decline of our nation.
TIME FOR A HEART CHECKUP
It’s time that American Christians checked their hearts – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…. No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6: 21-24).
What has morality got to do with economics? Just about everything.
Howard Dayton is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries. His column replaces the one written for Baptist Press each month by the late Larry Burkett, who died July 4. Dayton and Burkett joined forces in 2000 when Crown Ministries led by Dayton merged with Christian Financial Concepts led by Burkett. The new organization became Crown Financial Ministries.